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Tech Or Management Beyond Age 39? 592

Posted by kdawson
from the when-you-come-to-a-fork-in-the-road-take-it dept.
relliker writes "So here I am at age 39 with two contractual possibilities, for practically the same pay. With one, I continue being a techie for the foreseeable future — always having to keep myself up-to-date on everything tech and re-inventing myself with each Web.x release to stay on top. With the other, I'm being offered a chance to get into management, something I also enjoy doing and am seriously considering for the rest of my working life. The issue here is the age of my grey matter. Will I still be employable in tech at this age and beyond? Or should I relinquish the struggle to keep up with progress and take the comfy 'old man' management route so that I can stay employable even in my twilight years? What would Slashdot veterans advise at this age?"
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Tech Or Management Beyond Age 39?

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  • by Panzor (1372841) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @11:49PM (#28617499)

    Do what makes you happy, man. If you wanted to do management like you said, then go for it. The only reason people want money is for happiness. Getting happiness out of the job is a bonus.

  • management (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zork the Almighty (599344) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @11:53PM (#28617529) Journal
    Ageism in tech is very real, and even if you're not seeing it yet, you will in another 10 years. By that time it will be too late. Get on the management track while you can.
  • go for management (Score:5, Insightful)

    by davidone (12252) <davide <dot> saccon [at] gmail {dot} com> on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @11:54PM (#28617543) Homepage Journal

    Think about how many young people are being graduated all over the world today.
    Think how are they eager to work for way less than you get.
    Think how faster than you they are at learning new things.
    Now where'd you put the only asset you have, i.e. experience?

  • by five18pm (763804) * on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @11:56PM (#28617565)
    You have to know tech either way, whether you continue to be in tech or go in to management, you have to know the tech and update yourself continuously if you want to hold your own. With that in mind, if management does make you happy, go for it.
  • Re:management (Score:4, Insightful)

    by scubamage (727538) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @11:58PM (#28617593)
    I don't think that's entirely true. I would never, ever argue anything technical with Andrew Tenenbaum, for instance. If anything, most of the older techs I've had the joy of working with know their stuff extremely well and their experience makes them a tour de force in any sort of technical emergency. However, I think their experience also tends to lead them towards management - if only because young unseasoned techs constantly come to them with questions.
  • by adamkennedy (121032) <adamk@c[ ].org ['pan' in gap]> on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @11:58PM (#28617597) Homepage

    It's nearly impossible to maintain the energy and volume of coding that you do in your 20s.

    As you get older, your energy and raw intelligence is going to fall, but your experience and wisdom is going to increase.

    If you can, you need to find some way to channel and adapt to this change.

    On the pure technical side, that is going to mean heading up from coding into higher level design and architecture, solving the conceptual level problems (with a reliably high level of correctness) of how a big system will work and then steering teams of people for the implementation. You'll still be coding semi-regularly, but if you're lucky you will only have to step in to solve the REALLY hard/interesting bits that the lower level people can't handle. Sometimes this means picking a specialisation and sticking with it, certainly.

    If you aren't one of the technical elites in this way, management can be another way to utilise your experience and wisdom. This is especially the case if you've worked a lot with medium to large teams on projects, and you've gained an understanding of how to set up effective development teams. Management also carries with it a political/social/personality requirement. If you've got enough geek cred to know your field, but you can hang out with the sales and marketing people and be comfortable, then perhaps that is your direction.

  • by kiwimate (458274) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:01AM (#28617623) Journal

    Same age as you, and firstly I should say how fortunate you are to have this choice in the context of the current economy. Nice position to be in :)

    My perspective: there are definite niches in tech, and if you find one you can become virtually irreplaceable. But if your skills are more generic (no matter how good), then ageism is a very real danger, as your experience and longevity become more expensive.

    Most people on /. seem to have a different problem. They have someone trying to push them into management and they have no desire to go that route. But you say you enjoy it. So, in your position, I'd be going the management route. With a strong technical background and some management skills/business knowledge, you become a very valuable manager, and that will only increase.

    One final point: if you try management full time for six months and find it's not really what you expected, will your company let you go back to the technical track? If so, then I'd say the choice writes itself. What have you got to lose?

  • Re:management (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:07AM (#28617677) Journal
    Thirty-nine was so twenty years ago...

    I look at management - and consultancy, which is the same thing without the head count - as simply playing with lines of code that are much bigger. Bigger building blocks, if you will. Instead of data structures and algorithms I put together DBA's and network people and infrastructure agreements, and match people and tasks.

    The need for correct syntax and error correction applies at any level. But it certainly pays to have learned everything up to that point; there are fewer places where gremlins can hide & catch you unawares if you're not quite that easily fooled.

    Technology teaches you to think. The other stuff teaches you to value thinking correctly.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:08AM (#28617691)

    ... you'll realize that, as soon as you take that first step into management, you're going to start being the butt of jokes.

    Unless you're my manager, of course. I never make fun of him, nor of his lack of technical acumen.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:17AM (#28617751)

    I don't know about this. As a manager you work with different tools. Instead of a text editor or soldering iron, your staff is your tools. Still need technical knowledge, but nobody can be expected to know every little detail anyway (bad for disaster recovery if nothing else. what if the guru and master of all knowledge, seen and unseen, gets hit by a bus or lightning).

    Your first management job is the hardest, because you'll want to get down and dirty with the details, and you be, *gasp* micromanaging.

  • Check your pulse (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:19AM (#28617763) Journal
    What sort of books do you prefer to buy? Does your buying strategy include more "Minimal Perl" than "Blue Ocean Strategy? Do you prefer to spend on "The Definitive Guide to MySQL" or "Good to Great"? Which ones do you prefer to read nowdays? The answer to that question could point to the answer to your larger question.
  • by samkass (174571) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:19AM (#28617767) Homepage Journal

    Slashdot generally seems to consider tech something that requires cutting-edge skills but management as something anyone could do. I haven't found that to be the case. Being a good manager requires staying up on the management skills, techniques, and tools. It also often requires some politics, budget skills, and decisiveness. It's not something anyone can do well, and it's not something you can sit back and relax in and expect to stay good at it.

    Personally if I left tech I'd head for business development, but that's just me. You still get to play with all the latest toys that way. :)

  • by pudro (983817) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:21AM (#28617785)
    If all other things are pretty much equal, I would consider these two things:

    1) If you aren't already including it in "how happy you are with either job", consider how much you have to put up with other peoples crap. Since you say that you enjoy management, do you really already understand how much more other people's ignorance and attitudes you will have to DEAL with (as opposed to just LIVING with it as non-management)?

    2) Where are you more needed? Often times management has more underqualified individuals in it. Or just people who are otherwise qualified but just lack the management skills. Or are you that good at the techie stuff that you are the one that really makes stuff happen most of the time? How many others are there that easily could fill your spot in either position, should you not take it? I don't mean this in a "for the good of the business sense" way, but rather in the sense that making a bigger difference in either role could add additional "happiness" to the basic aspects of the jobs themselves.
  • by FlyingGuy (989135) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {yuggniylf}> on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:25AM (#28617807)

    I am in your age group. Having turned 50 recently, I look ahead to what is the next Big Thing for me. I did the management tour early on in my late 30's and found it distasteful since it involves trying to motivate people to get the job done and coddling upper management.

    As one poster said, It is trying to get adults who act like children to act like adults, and dealing with squabbles between developers, one who is is bound and determined to use Ruby and another who is just as determined to use something else, and trying to make everyone happy and productive and satisfy the sales weenies.

    Although i hate to say it because it makes me sound like more of a gray hair then I am, it is really time to sit back and take stock. I don't know if you have a family or not but this is a crucial decision and they have to be taken into account since your decision ultimately effects them as well.

    There is no pat answer for this, the answer has to come from you and your desires for your future. Although I am not sure I recommend it, if you are well known enough and have the hutspa to really sell yourself, do the ultimate sell out and become a consultant, it has worked for me.

  • by jhoger (519683) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:26AM (#28617819) Homepage

    Think about how many young people are being graduated all over the world today.

    Lots of green recruits that think they know everything but don't. Welcome to Software.

    Think how are they eager to work for way less than you get.

    Commensurate with the quality of their work (where quality includes correctness, time to completion, and maintainability at least) since they have no Experience...

    Think how faster than you they are at learning new things.

    Umm, Bullshit. You're telling me that after 25 some years of learning within this field I'll have a harder time learning new tech? There's really not much new under the sun, Son. Did you know C# just got Lambda expressions?

    Now where'd you put the only asset you have, i.e. experience?

    Pretty high... apparently you haven't read any job listings, since HR drones do too.

  • by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:29AM (#28617845)
    You can't sit back and relax and expect to be good. But you CAN sit back relax, be really bad, and not get fired.
  • by whowantscream (911883) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:36AM (#28617873)

    My company hires management based on management experience, not experience in the field I work in.

    Unfortunately I'm going to have to agree with this - especially in the higher levels of management. Sometimes it is the organization's lack of understanding of IT and need to relate to the IT manager that leads to someone with limited tech experience being hired. Other times a once tech savvy manager ends up getting further and further removed from operations - instead being forced to spend their time politicking and worrying about bottom lines.

    Ultimately you should make your decision based off of what makes you happiest - as others have said. Get an understanding of what your role in management will actually entail and determine the distance you'll be from operations.

    Being 39 doesn't make you 'too old for tech'... being lazy, unwilling to change, inexperienced and out of touch does. On the other side - some people are built for management and some aren't. Unfortunately a lot of people who aren't still end up in management positions.

  • by eyrieowl (881195) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:39AM (#28617891)

    I have wondered the same thing. I'm not yet at a decision point about it, but when I think seriously about the future, I worry about whether staying in hardcore development and architecture is going to be sustainable or not. There seems to be so much less room in the world for "senior" technologists than for equally senior managers, and I am not sure what that will mean for my career. I can not imagine how I would get on not being able to get my hands in there and solve the really hard problems, but I wonder if I'll have to step back from doing that simply to be able to stay in the game. As much as I would have a hard time contemplating a career in management, I would have an even harder time being an old, unemployed developer who can't get an interesting job b/c he's too "senior". Aging sucks. At any rate, for myself, I think I'm pretty committed to trying to ride the technical path as far as I possibly can simply b/c I care so much more about it. Here's hoping....

  • by bigbird (40392) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:39AM (#28617893) Homepage

    Good advice. Spending 8+ hours getting paid for doing what you love will help your life to be a happy one. Doing stuff you don't like for half of your waking hours will make life a misery.

    And it is hard to succeed if you don't love what you are doing.

    If you love coding, stick with it - there will always be a job for you. I'm in my 40's and have been coding for many years. There's nothing like getting paid to play, and there's no end in sight yet!

  • by PinchDuck (199974) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:40AM (#28617901)

    15 years ago. Ick. Now I'm back in tech and loving it. If you love management, and are good at it, than go for it. God knows, there are too few good managers. I was one of the bad ones, which is why I went right back into coding. I wasn't PHB bad, but I hated doing project management/personnel/fighting for resources. If you have the talent for that and want to do it, go for it. I wouldn't be too worried about your age when it comes to coding, however, as long as you love to learn new things you'll be able to stay current for your entire professional life. It isn't lack of intelligence that does in people, it's getting locked in their ways and refusing to accept new ideas.

  • Getting happiness out of the job is a bonus.

    If getting happiness out of the job is a bonus, you've got the wrong job. Worse yet, your boss has the wrong employee.

  • by ojustgiveitup (869923) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:41AM (#28617907)
    Hi! (I'm trying to start with a friendly vibe because otherwise I'm afraid my comment might come off as sarcastic.) I think that the reason the slashdot community generally considers management to be a no-brainer (as evidenced very recently by your extremely underrated post) is that we all believe, often from first-hand experience, but also from hear-say, speculation, and exaggeration, that many of the "skills, techniques, and tools" that managers try to stay up on are merely bullshit to make them managers seem busy and justify their continued employment. I'm curious (seriously) what things you think managers need to keep up with that don't fall into that category.
  • by fractoid (1076465) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:49AM (#28617951) Homepage

    Slashdot generally seems to consider tech something that requires cutting-edge skills but management as something anyone could do.

    I don't know about that - I'd say it's more that Slashdot just considers management as something not requiring cutting-edge skills. The problem is, of course, that tech doesn't have that much of a career path. You go from junior tech, to tech, to senior tech... and then if you want to go further, you go into management. Technical positions don't scale. Even in engineering, you'll be doing more management than design if you're in charge of something big.

    Personally, I'm aiming (eventually) for IT security. From what I've seen, security scales well. You can be in charge of just your web server, or you can be in charge of a multinational corporation's WAN infrastructure, and you're still using most of the same skillset.

  • by sumdumass (711423) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:49AM (#28617953) Journal

    You must be at a good company. I know of several companies which a degree in physical education is enough to secure a mid level management position.

    All those stories about the pointy hair bosses that could surf the interweb if you didn't show them how to didn't come from nowhere.

  • by Smithy66 (1230222) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @12:55AM (#28618005)

    It's nearly impossible to maintain the energy and volume of coding that you do in your 20"

    Isn't it the quality of the code not the quantity. Surely 20 years of hard won experience as a coder learning how to do it properly trumps a brain with maybe half the age but none of the wisdom.

  • by istartedi (132515) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:01AM (#28618027) Journal

    Just read your own post as if it were written by somebody else. You can tell by the tone that you want to take the management job. A techie who is expressing reluctance about "having to keep up" is not going to be a happy techie.

    If you aren't going to be happy doing it, you won't be successful.

    Take the management job. It's plainly what you want.

  • by Divebus (860563) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:03AM (#28618033)

    Now where'd you put the only asset you have, i.e. experience?

    Interesting, that. I got laid off a few months ago because I got kicked from pure tech up to management in a growing company. After a while, I was managing a lot but my tech edge was relatively dull and expensive. I was expendable.

    Now, I'm getting back into tech on my own. That's the place to be. I'm hooked up with two independent tech groups tired of the cheap/eager people with no experience. Both groups said they don't want "kids" making big decisions without the likes of me (56 yo) with my experience holding the ship's wheel.

    Manage if you must but keep your hands deep in your trade.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:05AM (#28618051)

    I think this advice is spot on. You will be a more successful manager if you continue to have a grip on the issues at hand, more than just manpower and schedules.

    I went into management at age 34, and enjoyed a number of satisfying jobs, always in the middle of something technically exciting. I assigned myself small parts of the projects to do, nothing on the critical path, and kept my tech skills somewhat sharp. When I was VP of engineering for a public company, I assigned myself bug-fixing tasks to keep my hand in. In later years, I found myself yearning to go back into more hands-on work, and did that successfully until I retired at 63. I was not a super tech designer type, but I could hold my own as a coder.

    You can do both.

  • by turing_m (1030530) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:06AM (#28618059)

    being a techie for the foreseeable future -- always having to keep myself up-to-date on everything tech and re-inventing myself with each Web.x release to stay on top

    COBOL

  • by tuxgeek (872962) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:09AM (#28618069)

    The only reason people want money is for happiness

    Bullshit! you can't buy happiness with money. I've known lots of millionaires and they are all miserable people and nuts to boot. It's all proportional, the more money someone has, the closer they get to complete asshole certification
    Makes me glad to be an average working stiff, but I'm happy.
    Happiness is doing something you enjoy.
    When you get out of bed tomorrow morning, rise with the thought that this day will be a great day, that's pretty much how happiness starts
    Just my $.02

  • by tsm_sf (545316) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:12AM (#28618085) Journal
    Slashdot generally seems to consider tech something that requires cutting-edge skills but management as something anyone could do. I haven't found that to be the case.

    Me either. Any project that I've worked on that was managed well always felt like the manager was meta-programming, if that makes sense to you. Seems to be a rare skill, much harder to pull off than just being a good programmer.
  • My mirror career (Score:5, Insightful)

    by freedom_india (780002) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:15AM (#28618101) Homepage Journal

    Well, you seem to mirror my career although you are older by 5 years.
    I was a techie in my early years of my 14 years of IT career. Cut my teeth on JDK 1.0.2 and was the one of the first to introduce Java to Citibank via a working prototype that used RMI/JRMP: won an award for the same.
    Over the years as i got promoted beyond my capabilities, i realized two things: I was a leader, not a manager. I created and built teams that were fiercely loyal and extremely professional. But like me, they too hated the Administrivia of Management and refused to enter "Management".
    I also recognized a truth: The MBAs in suits look down upon techies. The Techies look down upon MBAs as paper pushers. You need someone who has the confidence of techies BUT also has an MBA under his belt to talk sense to the management.
    Someone who can talk to Clients directly on their business needs, understand their business problems on Compliance, Dealer Management, Funds Treasury investment across borders, EoD transaction nettings, etc and then turn around talk to the techies about EJB Entity Beans, Message Driven Beans, WebSphere 5.1.3 to WebSphere 6.0 AS migration to achieve the same.
    I realized that such people are far and very few. Most take to Management after the required years as a techie and lose touch with technology. Some stay with technology and refuse to understand the business reasons and concerns that put food on their plates.
    You need to be the one who bridges both and has the confidence of both.
    I can walk up to any Bank and talk sense to their suits: Corporate Actions payouts, T+2 settlements, Securities Loans, etc. Why? I have a PG in Banking under my belt. But i can also come back to my teams and talk to them about evaluating their architecture via SAAM rather than ATAM, mathematically evaluating a design for fitness for purpose, not preferring AJAX for security reasons, architecture patterns, etc. Why? Because i daily go through the grind and understand their difficulties. FYI Its not easy to migrate from WAS 5.1.3 to WAS 6.0 on OS/390 when you have session beans invoking MDBs and you are using SQLJ.
    In short, you need to be a master of both.
    You need to wear two faces: one face which understands that the cold fork is for Salads and one who understands IE 7.0 DOM model.

  • by MaskedSlacker (911878) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:26AM (#28618141)

    No one is saying that GOOD managers aren't skilled, just that they've never even heard of a good one.

  • by Pahalial (580781) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:47AM (#28618235)

    I'm sorry, but this is plainly obvious. Now there are a lot of useful comments in this thread about IT ageism and all that, but the wording of the submission is plain as day to anyone who cares to read between the lines: For continuing in IT you mention no particular positives, and harp on the negative aspect of having to stay up to date and 're-invent yourself'. Whereas w.r.t. management you only say that you seriously enjoy doing it and are seriously considering spending the rest of your working life on it.

    Ermmmm....

    Granted, you then go on to imply that management is for senile old men, but this only serves to clarify to your audience why you're having this issue: you have deep-seated preconceptions as to what type of people actually go into management, and while you respect the work itself and would like to shine in that respect, you can't get past your own mental blocks of seeing them all as Dilbert-styled PHBs.

    Well, by the power vested in me by Slashdot, I officially set you free. Go forth and manage, AND stay up to date on tech, and be the good manager that will render Dilbert obsolete. Use all the grey matter you have - and frankly you will need to - to properly challenge your talented techie workers while using them to the best of their abilities and making the latter obvious to those above you.

    I wish you all the best in your management career. Remember, while it's not the same as tech work, don't be afraid to treat it the same when it comes to research - there are innumerable useful books written to help ease you into management coming from any techie standpoint.

  • by intrico (100334) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:48AM (#28618237) Homepage

    The problem is that 20-somethings are cheaper, and more likely to put in ridiculous unpaid overtime (both because they can handle it, and because they're cheaper). If you're in a front-line sort of job where you're competing with fresh BS grads, then you're going to face it.

    Not true at any company with competent hiring managers, which would also be any company that makes good products and is actually capable of long-term survival.

  • Re:management (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Minupla (62455) <minupla@gmai l . com> on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:51AM (#28618255) Homepage Journal

    *Disclaimer: I went the manager path*

    Yes there is ageism in IT. There are types of jobs that you will never get hired for beyond a certain age, as you will be viewed as too expensive for the position. For instance, no one ever hires a 35 yr old for a entry level coding position. As you get higher in age, the fewer avenues are open to you. Eventually you end up with a choice between high level technical specification (Sr Architect positions, etc) or Management.

    The problem is that there are very few senior architect positions. Ergo, effectively as you get older, the jobs get harder to get, and you get an effect that is pretty much indistinguishable from discrimination. (I'll stay out of if it ACTUALLY discrimination - that's a hair for legal types to split, not I)

    So if you're very good, you can keep on in Tech. Put your ego aside and ask yourself if you're actually that good. Or better yet, ask someone you can trust.

    Now for myself, as I came up the ranks of techies, I noticed something. There were very few good IT managers. Good being defined as:

    1) having a clue about what they're managing (IT)
    2) giving a shit for the people they are managing
    3) being able to talk to both the IT guys and the Business guys without getting shot by both

    I am arguably good enough that I could have gone Architect. I currently manage a team of them, and for the most part I keep up. I think I better serve the organization where I am though. I keep the shit from hitting my team, provide constructive feedback them in terms of budgets, org politics, and business realities, and try to ensure that the company doesn't make a mistake because IT didn't communicate effectively enough to them in terms they can understand. (Techies: We need a new core switch, we're hitting 8Gbits on the backplane!) (Business: Whats a backwhozit?)

    Min

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:59AM (#28618287)

    Do not take Darth Vader as a role model. Managing isn't as easy as it sounds and can be quite a humbling experience. Managing sure does lead to the dark side, and you can get drunk with power and quickly resort to use the whip more than a carrot. This can come back and bite you pretty quickly if you have not built a solid rapport with your team. You'll start to get dimwits(who'll assume they're on your *hitlist at the smallest complaint about them) who'll go to your manager to complain about you(and grossly exaggerate) pretty quickly. The first thing you learn, and sometimes the hard way, is that your leadership position is an illusion. The developers run you, not the other way around, and you can't make anyone do anything. If you are likeable enough to them they may do you the favour of actually doing some work so you don't look bad.

    If you are given management responsibilities and you are also the Technical team lead you are also on route for collision. It is hard to juggle both. As a Technical team lead, you would enforce the adherance to architecture and conventions(often uncompromisingly), and just make sure the code doesn't go to crap. As a manager you have to assign work to people and just hope they get it done. The best managers, usually aren't technical, and get out of a programmers way so they can get the work done, not caring how. As a techie you care how, so often the roles are mutually exclusive.

    To be successful in the role manager you have to keep the hell out of the way of the developers, to dole out attaboys, to rarely complain (and if so in an absolutely nice way). As a techie, you have to give up on things being done your way(which is always the right way:-), and chill the hell out. As a manager it is up to you to shield everyone else from pressure from above. Your team can either lessen that pressure by working hard or increase it by not, and even worse they can go behind your back to complain. If you are new to a team, many entrenched employees will have back channels to your manager. You'll quickly find that sticking your nose into the developers business and caring too much isn't worth the pain.

  • by Jessta (666101) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @02:19AM (#28618389) Homepage

    continuously reinvent yourself?
    The IT industry doesn't change as quickly as people like to think. Those who sell re-training, frameworks, programming languages and bullshit have an vested interest in convincing you of this.
    World wide web:
    1991 - (hypertext linked pages)
    1995 - (hypertext linked pages, with scripting)
    1996 - (hypertext linked pages, with scripting and styles)
    1999 - (hypertext linked pages, with scripting and limited network access(xmlhttprequest))
    2009 - (hypertext linked pages, with enough scripting available to create applications similar to previously created native applications)

    Hardware gets faster, Operating systems add features, but software development and the user experience is pretty much the same.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @02:26AM (#28618439)

    You have to know tech either way, whether you continue to be in tech or go in to management

    I want to work where you do. My company hires management based on management experience, not experience in the field I work in. Then they quit after two months because they don't know what's going on and all the working stiffs are making fun of them. Hire new manager, rinse, and repeat.

    This is going to sound more confrontational than I mean it, but when I hear that sort of comment in real life I immediately wonder whether the real problem is a bunch of immature employees who are too proud of their technical skills and unable to figure out what's actually needed in the work place.

    There are certainly a lot of bad managers, but there are far more mediocre ones who have some flaws, but more than enough skills to help a talented group succeed. Good employees figures out what those skills are and how to take advantage of them--and most managers appreciate that. Inexperienced ones say in their comfort zone, focus on management deficiencies, which lets them feel superior and complain to colleagues in the lunch room.

    Going out of your way to help find ways for a mediocre manager to succeed can make you start to feel really underpaid--isn't it supposed to be the other way around? Aren't you performing well above your pay grade? Well, yes; but in a halfway decent organization overperforming in this way gets rewarded, evenutally. Usually far faster than overperforming just on tech, which requires a technical manager to truly appreciate.

    I've never met you, so I have no opinion about whether this is the case in your organization. But if you've had a succession of bosses who are so bad you can't work with them, I'd really move on. Nearly all organizations are somewhat dysfunctional, but being that sort of magnet for bad managers means you can't help but to improve your situation by moving.

  • by WebCowboy (196209) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @02:29AM (#28618477)

    ...if you aren't comfortable with "being evil" then don't go there.

    #1 More pay, most techies have a "salary cap" for their position and can only reach a certain level, managers go all the way to the top aka CEO. Also when the company starts having losses the first ones they downsize are techies.

    There is such a thing as "enough pay". I don't care how rich I am, if I hate what I do to get that money I'd be unhappy. There are lots of ways to make six figures in a highly technical career. That is enough for most people--if you don't think so then you might want to re-evaluate your priorities.

    Also, in the case of my former emplyer the techies were NOT the first to be laid off--the first were "middle management"--the ones that seemed to me "district X manager" or some such title, where "x" changed every other year (or even more often). Hourly labour was next when a manufacturing facility was shut down and work was consolidated in another facility. Techs were about the third round of layoffs. Thing is, if the need to cut costs is deep enough NOBODY is immune to layoffs, unless you are VERY high up the chain, and at 39, most people are at a point where they are "mid-level" in a corporate structure--and at that level it is managers that are MOST vulnerable.

    #3 As you age it becomes harder and harder to understand new technical trends.

    Not everyone gets dementia when they get older--most people retain more than enough of their cognitive abilities well past retirement age. It seems everyone who complains about ageism in an argument to go into management is most guilty of it themselves. You don't become mentally feeble at forty. Old dogs CAN learn new tricks, and besides, someone has to fix the messes left behind by young techies who are still over-confident in themselves and make poorly thought-out decisions.

    Furthermore, making the argument that you should leave tech for management when you get older because you aren't mentally sharp enought to keep up with tech implies that management is for the feeble-minded. Please don't make such an implication--being an effective manager requires one to be mentally sharp, and besides, there are already way too many ineffective, feeble-minded managers out there.

    #4 Managers have better benefits and the "golden parachute" clause in that if they fire you or lay you off, you get a nice severance package.

    This is not the case unless your title includes the words "president", "chief" or "officer". Severance is generally based on salary and years of employment. If you are a mid-level techie or a mid-level manager you are likely to get similar severance pay as you're likely to have the same length of employment and not-too-different salaries. More technically oriented layoff victims are also more likely to be brought back on a consulting basis.

    #5 Any company that is willing to promote a techie to a management position is a valuable company to work for,

    Only if they are able to recognise if that person has a knack to manage a team of people. A technical person without an aptitude for management skills is probably worse than a manager who is good at managing but lacks technical skills--primarily because a good manager knows how to delegate such tasks effectively.

  • Completely agree (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @02:59AM (#28618629)
    I went into management at 37, ran various sizes of engineering team, trained and developed a few engineers, ran a few software projects on the side, then got into process engineering, designed complete manufacturing plants and their workflows (including the logistics and fulfilment systems), became a general manager, went into consulting, and now as I wind down towards retirement I not only manage the team that provides the consulting software, but write a fair bit of code where systems modelling is needed.

    The main difference at different phases of my career has been the way I relate to other people in order to get what I want and to try to get the best out of them. Working with manufacturing staff and sales people needs a different approach from working with engineers and PhDs. This is one of the things that keeps the job interesting.

    Over the years I've moved from designing early embedded systems where it was hard to see where the hardware ended and the code started, to using mainly Java and SQL to build data models. If thirty years in the business post-education tells me anything, it's that you can't go far wrong if you use the latest and best tools with the most tried and tested languages and patterns. But that shouldn't limit creativity.

    So: final advice. Do management while you can, and you have a real chance of a portfolio career where you always have employable skills.

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @03:11AM (#28618669) Homepage Journal

    The /.attitude in a nutshell:

    X is really hard.
    Anybody can do Y.

    Where X = what I do and Y = anything else.
           

  • by asplake (1222050) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @03:22AM (#28618721)
    I really must disagree. The age profile in IT is changing, we have to expect to be working a lot longer than our parents did, and inevitably this means more career opportunity for those who choose to stay in the industry

    As to my own experience, I made the leap (for the second time - the first time was a mistake) in my late 30s and never looked back. And being (say) a development manager can be a very rewarding job: teams of any size do take some organising (do it right and they'll even thank you for it!), people need support in their career development, and it takes someone who cares about technology to make the decisions to invest in things like testing, to sell the big refactorings and so on.

    To put my age in context, I had always been a developer, but by then I was in my third industry (aerospace, tools, finance). Now at 44 I'm leaving behind a big budget team in a big enterprise to become an IT Director in a small but growing company. Smaller budget but bigger scope, and the chance for the first time to have peers and a manager that aren't in IT, which makes for a very different challenge indeed. To someone who is always learning, dispensability is something to pursue!
  • by BrokenHalo (565198) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @03:29AM (#28618761)
    When I was 39, I would have seen this as a black-or-white no-brainer in favour of remaining a techie.

    Now I'm not so sure. At some point there comes a time when you get tired, and you lose patience with others' idiocies, and so you don't really want to spend your dotage jumping through arbitrary hoops of others' devising. On the one hand, you have to keep updating your tech skills, while on the other, you (usually) have to match up to some "Outcome" or "Key Performance Indicator" or whatever the current buzzword is.

    It might be safe to say you hold greater job security doing a "real" job that can't be outsourced or done away with than you might in the shifting sands of present-day management. I know there is a widely shared view that managers are unskilled workers, but it is no longer an avenue for those wishing to coast their way through the years leading up to retirement.
  • by Seumas (6865) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @03:34AM (#28618781)

    Young? The average male lives to something like 72 years. That means that your 30s are your middle age. (30 years on the young side, 30 years on the old side, 10 years in between -- middle age).

    So he's not OLD but he's not YOUNG by any stretch of the imagination. Your ability to rapidly learn new things drops drastically after the age of 25 and everything else starts to decay after 30 and 35. Not to mention the progression of time. You wake up tomorrow and suddenly you're 50 and it's too late for everything.

  • by mcvos (645701) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @03:37AM (#28618813)

    This is going to sound more confrontational than I mean it, but when I hear that sort of comment in real life I immediately wonder whether the real problem is a bunch of immature employees who are too proud of their technical skills and unable to figure out what's actually needed in the work place.

    Aren't you expecting the techies to do the manager's job here? Figuring out what's needed in the workplace is a manager's job. He needs to figure out what his workers need to get the job done, not the other way around.

    There are certainly a lot of bad managers, but there are far more mediocre ones who have some flaws, but more than enough skills to help a talented group succeed. Good employees figures out what those skills are and how to take advantage of them--and most managers appreciate that.

    Putting a mediocre manager in charge of good and talented employees can only work out if the manager is aware that the people working for him are more talented than he is. It can work out sometimes (my boss gets us involved with mission statements and vision for the future, as well as helping us how to improve our process in ways he wouldn't be able to figure out), but a surprising number of mediocre managers are not willing to accept their own limitations, and then you've got a recipe for disaster.

    Note that it's not the workers who should accommodate the manager so he can do his work, it should be the other way around. The manager should manage, so the workers can work.

  • by BrokenHalo (565198) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @03:41AM (#28618833)
    But if you've had a succession of bosses who are so bad you can't work with them, I'd really move on.

    Or better still, have a good long think about what you're doing wrong. Over the course of my life, I've come across any number of people who have a tendency towards sequential fallings-out with one person after another, who project the "fault" as being the other's.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @04:46AM (#28619113)

    Being 39 doesn't make you 'too old for tech'... being lazy, unwilling to change, inexperienced and out of touch does. On the other side - some people are built for management and some aren't. Unfortunately a lot of people who aren't still end up in management positions.

    On the other hand, let's not forget some people are built for tech and some aren't. Unfortunately a lot of people who aren't still end up in tech positions.

  • by Canberra Bob (763479) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @05:08AM (#28619205) Journal

    The example you present is the exact scenario that a good manager will protect you from. The best manager I have worked with had the approach that the best way to get results from those under him was to shield them from all the politics and crap that flew around above and let us do what we were best at. He knew that we would do anything humanly possible to get something done so if we said something couldn't be done it was taken that in no way, shape or form was it possible to get it done and this would then be passed up the line. Of course after a year he got booted as the sales guys didn't like a guy in management saying "no", it was much better for the guy to say yes and then if things go wrong they could put the boot into the poor devs who couldn't deliver the obscene promises that sales types make. I left shortly after as the dev chain of command locally fell under the sales director - who had absolutely zero clue about anything technical and things just became a big mess.

    Good managers are a rare breed and generally don't last long as those above them aren't used to hearing that they can't get whatever they ask for.

  • by eudaemon (320983) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @05:08AM (#28619209)

    I've been an unabashed computer nerd since the word go - taught myself programming, worked in
    the field even during high-school and college, and never looked back. But at some point,
    somewhere around a 3 AM disaster involving a failed firehose controller, I decided the
    classic UNIX SA/DBA role - at least in frontline support - was wearing thin. I took a
    job as an architect instead, but at least I mostly got to sleep nights. Then I switched jobs
    again about 5 years ago and started in a role that was prod support and team lead. 5 years later
    I manage 30'sh people - a mix of j2ee server admins and dba's and I still need to be somewhat
    technical but I don't have to log into a console anywhere and deploy code or debug anything any more.

    The years of technical experience mean I'm still driving troubleshooting when it gets really bad.
    I still bang out perl scripts when I need to, and I still get into architectural discussions with
    the application development teams who want to do stupid things because it's easy or cheap for them.

    Being a manager (at least in my world) means dealing with an entirely different layer of issues, though.
    You have to be able to influence people and coerce them into doing what they should be doing anyway:
    No you can't have all the available memory for your JVM cache, no you can't have 6 TB of disk space
    to keep online backups "just in case", yes you really have to make your code clustered and resilient. Yes
    you really have to give the prod support guys real docs and a way to recover if something fails. I feel
    like my title should be "Master of stating the obvious" and if we're ever allowed to pick our titles that will
    be on my business card. But the point is - you still need (and will have) the technical skills you accrued
    and you'll be using them.

    Some orgs look for people who have "pure" management backgrounds and can't wield a screwdriver, but they usually
    suffer from management myopia "anything I don't understand must be easy to do." My personal opinion is the
    best managers of tech organizations are those who have some sort of technical background, even if it's no longer
    current - the problem-solving mindset remains.

  • by Aceticon (140883) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @05:16AM (#28619237)

    You forgot all the political skills part. Things like:

    • Managing Expectations: basically keeping the project stakeholders (those that have an interest in the project, such as future users) aware of the progress of it (instead of, for example, "disappearing" from the stakeholder's scope for 3 months while the project is being done); being upfront with possible problems and delays; being realistic about the ability to deliver certain features in a given time.
    • Knowing when to say Yes and knowing when to say No: often just being able to say "we can't do that within the time period requested". Better practitioners will do things like having the project goals split into features, get time estimates for each feature and then, if time is not available to implement all features ("in this version") have the client (can be an internal "client") of the project prioritize the features and be made aware of the impossibility of doing all of them "in this iteration" as they were defined.
    • People and connections: Knowing who your team/project is dependent upon, creating clear lines of communication between teams, making available clear points of contact in your own team ("this is the guy you speak to about the external interface of our system") increasing the visibility of your dependencies on less cooperative teams (if they're late everybody will know that they are causing the delays in the project)

    There are a lot more things than this. Mostly boiling down to managing some or other facet of the project/team (managing team morale, managing knowledge dependencies, managing project progress, proactive crisis prevention, contingency planning, crisis management, controlling requirements changes, etc ...)

    Although some of the work in (low/mid level) management can be done with the same mental skills as used in software development (basically a lot of it is "process planning": which is not too dissimilar to designing program structures and flows) the main differences have to do with the need for people and social skills and experience to evaluate most of the inputs, components and influences of the process and with being aware an coping with a much higher level of uncertainty (software doesn't stop working because one of the classes was "unhappy with the kind of work I've been assigned" and decided to move to another company, people do).

    The reason why most of us have very rarely been managed by good managers is that very few people actually have all of the habits and intellectual/logical skills for process planning; the flexibility to deal with high levels of uncertainty and recover when Unknown Unknowns hit your project; the people an social skills.

    Instead manager styles usually fall into:

    1. The Salesman: A People's Person - knows everybody, talks to everybody. Knows all the tricks in the book to cover his own ass. Can bullshit like the best. Couldn't plan his way out of a room but can build pretty MS Project graphics like the best.
    2. The Fire-fighter: No process, no method. Does not have contingency planning and mostly reacts to events. Crisis are common and quick "solutions" are put in place to "fix it", said "solutions" often being the cause of the next crisis. Often changes his mind on something mid project as "new" requirements (which could have been found upfront with a little probing) appear
    3. The Techie: Approaches project planning like software design. Thinks that things will be done just like he expects by just telling people to do it (and when he finds that is not the case, ends up micro-managing/doing-the-work-himself). Does not plan for contingencies or take in account uncertainties. Accepts the requests from the "client" like the gospel at any point in the project and just adds them to the project as he understood them (said understanding often not matching what the "client" actually needs). Takes upon himself most/all of the technical responsibilities in the project resulting in overwork and bad decisions.
  • by AlXtreme (223728) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @07:07AM (#28619633) Homepage Journal

    If you don't mind me asking, why do you feel the need to insert newlines yourself rather than using the browser's built in word-wrapping?

    He's a manager, said so himself. 'nuth said.

  • by joeyblades (785896) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @08:46AM (#28620295)

    The best managers are those that remain technically savvy.

    Switching to a management route doesn't mean you have to stop using your brain... even though a lot of managers seem to do just that... dare to be different.

    As an individual contributor, your impact is merely your own contribution. As a strong technical leader, you amplify the contribution of every member of your team, which is a much greater impact.

  • Elder Coder ahoy! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dragoness Eclectic (244826) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @09:17AM (#28620733)

    I've been a programmer since college in the 1980s. I don't use DEC BASIC or Turbo Pascal anymore, but C/C++ is alive and well, and I've picked up Perl and Python along the way. I keep staring at that Java textbook, too.

    I got my first genuine Silicon Valley job in 2007; it was quite interesting. (God, I love the Bay area!) My manager and I were the same generation and general level of experience; we had a lot to talk about. All the other programmers were a bunch of kids, frankly. 20-somethings and 30-low-somethings. Good kids, relatively sharp, but I learned that being young and sharp isn't the same as being experienced and still sharp. If you're willing to keep learning new stuff as it comes along, and new techniques, that huge fund of experience with problem solving and bug-hunting gives you a major advantage. Besides, you can tell the new kid from India war stories about working on the engine controllers for the Marine Corp's coolest toy.

    (I've also noticed that after you've unsnarled someone else's undocumented, buggy code for the Nth time in 20 years, you develop a strange fondness for well-written documentation, even if you have to write it yourself, and modular, well-structured code, even if you have to re-write it yourself, and coding standards, even if you have to invent them yourself. All that stuff I disdained when my professors back in college demanded it has come back to haunt me; damn, they were right--this stuff is a good idea! On the other hand, there are times when 'goto' is actually useful.)

    I personally have little aptitude for management and avoid it like the plague, but that's me. YMMV; just pointing out you can still program well beyond your age. You can, in fact, become the respected senior guru.

  • by The Fun Guy (21791) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @09:42AM (#28621197) Homepage Journal
    I did this on a temp basis last year - stepped out of a tech position and into an executive/management position for six months. It was more difficult than I expected. My tech skill level = expert. My management skill level = rookie. Unfortunately, I assumed I was an expert manager, so I dove in and acted like one. If I had understood the truth, I would have given myself more time to learn the ropes. My superiors took my swagger at face value, and expected me to be an expert manager from day 1, and solve extremely difficult personnel problems. I was out of my depth, and I did a poor job. MORAL: Management is a different skill set. Give yourself time to learn it. should I relinquish the struggle to keep up with progress and take the comfy 'old man' management route If you are expecting that management is all about playing solitaire and filling out the occasional budget report, I would suggest that you need to get a clearer understanding of what the job will entail. A manager who doesn't at least try to stay current with progress will be on a 6 year glide path to obsolescence. Once you have no idea what the tech people are talking about, and can't even understand their explanations, you will be a PHB who can't run the department efficiently. You'll be ripe for replacement by some bright 39 year old looking to move out of a tech job. You wouldn't take a tech job where you'd be forced to work with shitty equipment. In management, you'd be working with people, but the same rules apply. You should consider the people you'll be working with and for. Know their expectations. More importantly, you need to have a clear understanding of the people who will be working FOR YOU. In management, you should consider each person to be a different piece of kludgy, buggy, undocumented software. Each piece might work well under one set of circumstances, but make them interact and rely on each other under a different set of circumstances and there are no guarantees. Oh, and you don't have access to the source code for them either, so figuring out what makes them tick has to be done empirically, through observational reverse-engineering.
  • by bodland (522967) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @10:49AM (#28622291) Homepage
    Look for something completely different. Tech managers now have to force techies to do what the business units want rather than plan and provide technology solutions. The business makes the calls, which are typically crazy, ignorant requests that make little technical sense. The result is techs become the zombie implementers of a "git 'er done" 1/4ly profit management philosophy.

    Makers of enterprise level applications are now faced with a staff comprised mostly of sales people, marketers and managers. Support, development and engineering are really no longer needed and all development and support is contracted on a "as needed" basis. So going the manager route will no doubt put you in the situation of deploying applications and solutions with few resources, no training and no time. The discipline of software development has been tossed out the door long ago.

    I suggest get into teaching, open a bait shop, garden or greenhouse supply store, solar panel installing, sales or management.

    The best answer is to let it go and let someone else beat the dead horse. Apply your tech skills in a way that builds something lasting for the community. The rest will end up in the dust heap anyway.
  • As an engineer... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Old Sparky (675061) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @11:04AM (#28622553)
    ...tech stuff always made me happier. I went through a 20 year Aero Engineering career, and it seemed like every time I moved up, ie - more management, I was less happy. The dirty little secret (AFAIC) with management is that you end up dealing more with people problems than with tech problems. Tech problems are much better defined than people problems. And I was always much happier with well-defined problems I could DO something about, rather than having to deal with the idiosyncrasies of human nature, which very few managers ever get a handle on.
  • by Eskarel (565631) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @11:04AM (#28622559)
    and hang the rest of it.

    If you like being a tech and you want to be a tech and you haven't had any real problems being a tech, then keep being a tech. You're 39, not 90 and can in all likelihood continue to do whatever you set your mind to for another 20 years or so. If you like management and want to be in management take that job, if you really want to be a pastry chef go do that. Life's too damned short to do something other than what you want to do just because you're afraid it might be hard.

    There's a lot of other factors involved of course, there's different kinds of tech jobs some of which are less volatile than the web side of things, there's management jobs which are more technical and management jobs which are less technical. There's the question of whether you're any good at being a manager, or whether you're any good at being a tech, but none of them really matter.

    A lot of people will tell you to think of the future, think of where you can get if you do this or do that. They're probably also going to tell you to take the management path because that's the path to big bucks, and that could be the right choice for you, it could also not be. Do what you love if it's at all possible, and if it's not try to find something that's as close as you can get because going to work every day in a job you hate isn't worth it.

  • Management (Score:3, Insightful)

    by C_Kode (102755) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @11:50AM (#28623327) Journal

    Go into management. If you still enjoy the tech side, you can always keep up with it. On the other hand, at some point the younger guys learn faster and will be cheaper to employ for those jobs. At some point in the future it can and probably will affect your employment!

  • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:08PM (#28624641) Homepage

    I hate this sort of crap. Not to criticize you. You're probably playing by the rules, and I'm sure your advice is good.

    But I hate all this game-playing with money and taxes. Because you're clever and are in a position to play these games, you get to keep your money. Lots of poor schmoes with a 9 to 5 who don't know any better, meanwhile, are being taken to the cleaners every year come tax time.

  • by Travoltus (110240) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @02:33PM (#28626133) Journal

    Well then, why don't you work for free? Will you be as happy then?

    Why do you think everyone, and I mean EVERYONE wants to get rich quick and retire early so they can go fishing or gaming or other hobbies that typically don't make money instead of work?

    I betcha that if you took 100 people who are happy doing what they do for work and you gave them the same salary to stay home and slack... 99 of them would stay home. Including you.

  • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Thursday July 09, 2009 @09:54AM (#28635773) Homepage
    Sure, but my point is, why should we have these games at all? In many cases, it has the effect of saying, "Taxes are for those without the time (and sense) to study the intricacies of our tax code and find ways to dodge." Why should our tax code say that? If two people make the same amount of money and spend their money on the same things, why should our tax code reward one of them for gaming his tax return?
  • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Thursday July 09, 2009 @12:57PM (#28638515) Homepage

    Legal? Yes. Ethical? Sure. A dodge? Still, yes.

    Is it immoral, illegal, or unethical for a homeowner to deduct their mortgage? I don't believe so. But why do we allow people to deduct mortgage payments at all? On the one hand, people will say, "to encourage home ownership." On the other hand, you could view it as a penalty on renters, who are often renting because they already can't afford to buy a home. So you take someone who's in worse financial shape, and you put a greater tax burden on them?

    Why should you get to deduct your Internet access, books, cell phone, and mileage when your average worker can't deduct his? Are you more in need of the money? Are we assuming that your buying books is of greater value to our society than the other guy's?

    The system was built to be manipulated so rich people could get out of your fair tax burden. I don't blame the rich people for taking advantage of it, but it's still a fucked up system.

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